Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with European allies this week to push forward an aggressive agenda on Ukraine, Iran, North Korea and Syria, while questions revolve around his status in the Trump administration.
Tillerson arrived on Monday for a week of meetings in Brussels, Vienna and Paris, amid reports that President Donald Trump has already plotted his succession plan. Trump dropped reports that Tillerson's departure is imminent, but affirmed his weakened state, tweeting: "I make the decisions."
His disagreements with the president on how to deal with burning issues like North Korea, Iran and Qatar have been played in public. It has led Trump to think privately that Tillerson is "too established" for his cabinet, according to a senior White House official.
Some US diplomats fear that Tillerson's work abroad this week will be less effective without the emergence of full support from the President.
"Foreign governments say there is turmoil, that there is a lot of controversy in the United States, that you can be fired today," a State Department official told ABC News.
"Your message and your negotiating position are weakened when there is a question if it is going to stay."
A senior EU diplomat told ABC News that they worry that Tillerson will not speak for the president.
The secretary of state is likely to ask questions in Europe about whether the administration will move the United States embbady in Israel to Jerusalem. Trump is expected to make an announcement on the matter in the coming days.
Tillerson will also defend: counteract the Russian aggression in Ukraine, support Trump's new strategy in Iran, maximize diplomatic pressure on North Korea through China and re-evaluate how to resolve the civil war in Syria.
"This is not the first time that there have been such speculations in the media, and that has not prevented the Secretary from working very effectively with close allies and partners," responded another official of the State Department.
There is also concern about the number of key European embbadies without ambbadadors. These political appointees are seen as the conduit for understanding Trump's often conflicting doctrine.
The Senate confirmed five ambbadadors in Europe at the beginning of November, including the United States ambbadador United in France Jamie McCourt, the United States Ambbadador to Spain Duch Buchan, the United States Ambbadador to Croatia Robert Kohorst, the United States Ambbadador to Switzerland Edward McMullen and the Ambbadador of Estad United in Denmark, Carla Sands.
U.S. Ambbadador to the United Kingdom, Woody Johnson, and US Ambbadador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson were confirmed earlier, but there are still key vacancies such as Germany. The nominee Richard Grenell is still waiting for confirmation.
Undersecretary for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Wess Mitchell was recently confirmed and travels to Europe with the Secretary of State. But the administration has not yet submitted a candidate for the position of ambbadador to the European Union.
Tillerson's Week Ahead
Tillerson will meet with the head of EU diplomacy and key architect of the agreement with Iran Federica Mogherini on Tuesday before the NATO meetings.
In NATO, Tillerson will continue Trump's drum beat that all members should increase their military budgets to 2 percent of their GDP, according to a senior State Department official. Some countries have already increased their budgets or have committed to reaching 2 percent over time, but Germany, Europe's largest economy, has not yet come close to achieving the brand.
At the same time, the NATO allies will seek the reaffirmation by Tillerson of the US commitment. UU With shared defense in case of an attack under Article 5.
In a speech before his trip, Tillerson described the security relationship of EE. UU With Europe as "armored" and added that "alliances have no meaning if their members can not or do not want to fulfill their commitments." Despite these guarantees, there are still questions in some European capitals about whether the United States will come to its defense in the event of a cyberattack or other multiple attacks.
Counterterrorism also occupies a high priority on the agenda. Tillerson will encourage a better exchange of information between European countries and coordination with NATO, according to another senior official of the State Department.
Allies are encouraged to apply as much diplomatic isolation as possible to North Korea after it launched its last ballistic missile test last week, the first that could reach the US capital. UU They will also be encouraged to put economic pressure on China to administer North Korea, according to a senior State Department official.
Germany, the largest country in the European Union, responded by withdrawing a junior diplomat from Pyongyang but kept his ambbadador in his place. The White House has called for complete isolation. Trump tweeted in August that Tillerson was "wasting time" with diplomatic efforts, but there are some leaders in Chancellor Angela Merkel's party who believe they should keep the lines open with North Korea.
The United States is also interested in reaching an agreement to review the Geneva talks on how to resolve the civil war in Syria. Tillerson will defend the expansion of the de-escalation zone, according to a senior State Department official. The talks have stalled over the role of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in the country. Tillerson said recently that Assad and his family "have no future" in Syria.
Two months have pbaded since Trump decertified Iran's compliance with the agreement. Tillerson will support support for Trump's expanded strategy to counter Iran's aggression, according to a senior State Department official.
In Vienna, Tillerson will affirm the United States' support for Ukrainian sovereignty in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, according to a senior official of the Department of State.
He will also hold a bilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday to push for greater cooperation with North Korea, working together to defeat ISIS and resolve the conflict in Ukraine.
But before this meeting, Tillerson had harsh words for Russia.
"Russia continues its aggressive behavior towards other regional processes and promotes undemocratic ideals," he said last week.
"We, together with our friends in Europe, recognize the active threat of a newly reborn Russia."
ABC News reported that Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis presented the president with a plan to arm Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank missiles. That plan has yet to be approved and pbaded to Congress, but it is seen as a bargaining chip during the talks.